March 12, 2010
Trever Miller is more than just your everyday LOOGY. Entering his 12thbig-league season, and his second with the Cardinals, the 36-year-old lefty specialist holds three major-league records. In 2007, Miller appeared in 76 games without a decision, breaking Scott Aldred’s old mark. It was part of a 121-appearance stretch with no wins or losses, which eclipsed Bobby Seay. Last but not least, Miller went an even more remarkable 240 consecutive appearances without seeing his name in the loss column, far outdistancing Randy Flores' 176-game streak. Overall, Miller has seen action in 589 games, logging 466 innings. In his career, he has held left-handed hitters to a .223/.312/.360 slash line.
David Laurila: How would you describe the career you’ve had in the big leagues?
Trever Miller: It’s getting lengthy, and I’m pretty proud of it. I probably wasn’t a guy who was projected to have a 10-year career by a lot of people, so I overcame a lot of the odds. I don’t throw with great velocity, but I’ve used my intelligence to get where I am today. That and my work ethic. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. I’m very blessed that God has allowed me to do it, by keeping me healthy and on the field.
DL: What was your mindset when you were first drafted?
TM: I was a cocky young punk. I thought I was going to be the next Tom Glavine. I came from Kentucky, and not a big baseball town, but I was one of the best ones there. That was where my baseball world ended. I didn’t realize how good everyone was out there—their talent level—until I got into spring training and looked around me and realized, "Hey, there are a lot of good athletes here, and I have to compete against them." I realized that I was a little behind those guys and had a lot of work to do.
DL: You reached the big leagues in September 1996, with the Tigers. What was your mental approach during that first month?
TM: They just wanted me to go out there and pitch like I was pitching in Triple-A and not change my game plan just because I was in the big leagues. That’s always a good plan with a young guy. You don’t want to throw in too much information and get them worried about pitching to names, because that’s what you have a tendency to do. You see a guy standing in the box and you go, "Oh my God, that’s Palmeiro" or "that’s Ripken" or "there’s Eddie Murray." If you start pitching to those names like that, you’re already defeated a little bit. You want to make sure that you’re on the same level with these guys, because you are—you’re competing on the same field.
DL: When did you learn how not to do that?
TM: I’d say that happened when I came back to the big leagues. I got knocked around in Detroit and got traded over to Houston and went back to Triple-A. When I made it back with Houston, I said to myself that I’d never do that again. If they think I’m cocky, that’s fine, because I’m going to be me up here and I’m going to pitch my game. I don’t care if they’re Hall of Famers, have 10 years, five years, or two days. They’re in my way and I’m going to try to roll over them and get them out of my way to extend my career. I learned very early on how cutthroat it is up here. You execute and do your job, or you go home.
DL: What is your approach now? As a situational reliever, you obviously know whom you’re coming in to face.
TM: There’s no psychological difference. For me, it’s not knowing what they’ve done, it’s knowing how to get them out. What is their identity? Where is their weakness? What are my strengths? What has this guy done in the past off of me—what is the history between us? It’s not what he’s done throughout his career. That’s the difference for me.
DL: What are your strengths right now?
TM: My sinker has become a big part of my game, in to lefties. So is my drop-down slider. I never dropped down until probably 2002. I was three-quarters like I’d always been, and the Reds wanted to see me get lefties out better—I was in Triple-A with them at the time. I decided, "Well, when I was 14 years old I was messing around in a game and kind of dropped my arm angle and almost threw a no-hitter, so I’ll try that." The last two months of that season, lefties only hit about a buck sixty off of me. I carried that into spring training, with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2003, made the team, and haven’t looked back since.
DL: How does a left-handed pitcher want to attack a left-handed hitter?
TM: I think that to be successful as a left-handed specialist, at the big-league level, or maybe at any level, is to make them aware of the ball inside—fastballs for a strike and for a ball inside with some kind of movement to eat them up. That’s because these guys are getting really good at staying out there and hitting that slider. You can have a great slider down and away to a lefty, but he’s going to just poke you over into left field all night long unless you make him aware of something inside. If I can’t do that, I’m not going to be here very long.
DL: Is there anything that differentiates you from most lefty relievers?
TM: I throw three different breaking balls, and I don’t think hitters are used to that. I have a three-quarters slider and a drop-down slider, and I can make my drop-down slider bigger or shorter, depending on what I think is the proper pitch in a given situation.
DL: Is bigger or shorter dictated more by feel or how the hitter is reacting?
TM: Well, a lot of it is feel, because some days you don’t have one. Maybe one of your breaking balls isn’t quite there, so you’re not going to spin it up there and give up a hit. When they’re all working, it’s more based on the preparation I put into the game before, like going over the video and the history I have against a guy, whether it’s last year, the last series, or last night. You face these guys over and over again, so that’s where the intelligence comes in. Your baseball intelligence—your pitching intelligence—kind of takes over in those situations. And you lean on your catcher. Yadier Molina is the best I’ve ever thrown to. Every facet of his game is A-plus.
DL: Which catchers have you learned the most from?
TM: I would say that if I’ve had two guys who really taught me how to pitch, as a catcher, it would be Yadier and Brad Ausmus. Those guys, you learn to lean heavily on. They’re right a lot and you start figuring out, "Why are they right?" Let’s ask that question. Well, now we’re learning. You ask them, "Why did we call that pitch?" and it’s "Oh, now I see. I see what you were doing there." You’re learning the game a little bit.
DL: Did you at all resent the idea of being made into a lefty specialist?
TM: At first I did. The honest answer would be yes. As a pitcher—and I came up as a starter—I think I can get everybody out. That’s my mentality. However, the maturity I have now allows me to say that it is better for my career, and for the team, for me to not face too many righties, because I‘m a little more exposed to a right-handed hitter than I am to a left-handed hitter. You take a step back and put your pride aside, and realize that it’s the best thing for the team. Do I like coming out of the game after facing one batter? No, not necessarily, but I understand it. The analogy I like to use is that if you give a kid a Christmas present and then take it away from him and tell him he can’t play with it until tomorrow, he’s going to be a little upset about it. It’s the same for me, because I absolutely love pitching. I love competing. It’s what I do and who I am. It makes me feel alive out there, so I was a little disappointed, but there is no disrespect that I did it. But I don’t think that my manager would be too excited about me being happy to be taken out of a game. They want to see a guy who wants to be out there too, so there’s understanding on both sides of the coin.
DL: Your claim to fame is that you hold the record for most consecutive no decisions. What meaning does that have for you?
TM: It was fun when I was going through it, but I wanted to win games. The losses I definitely didn’t want to be around, but when I was in a position to win a ballgame, I obviously wanted to get the win, because those go on your career stats. I was more proud of the fact that I never lost a game during that span, because that’s very hard to do as a reliever—not to have any decisions when you come into tie games all the time. Things are going to happen, so it’s very odd to go 100-plus games without getting any kind of decision one way or the other, either through bad luck or good luck. Sometimes you’re just the right person at the right time. You get one out and your team comes up and scores five runs, so you get a W for throwing one pitch. So, it’s a very interesting record. It’s not something I’d brag about, but it’s a record I hold. I know that when it ended, I remember thinking, "thank God." And I was happy that it ended on a win and not a loss.
DL: Are you aware that you also hold the record for consecutive appearances without a loss—240 from July 2006 to September 2008?
TM: I’m shocked. It’s so easy to get a loss out of the bullpen. The more I digest it, especially the older I get, the more proud I’ll become of it. I’m not sure that it’s an accomplishment as much as a feat—it’s not something I was striving for. I wasn’t striving to go 240 games without a loss. I’m striving to win every one, and do my best every time out there. Obviously I had some good luck. And I was able to execute quite efficiently out there and do it consistently over that amount of time—that amount of games.
Editor's note: Thanks to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for his help in getting the final answer for this interview.